As a father and experienced school adminisrator, I’ve seen and sympathized with frustrated parents who resort to physically putting their younger children into the car and driving them to school, then carrying them kicking and screaming into the building before being left with a staff member.
Many years ago, a lot of us used to think this can only happen in the Western world where most of the children are motivated to go to school and not in our country Nigeria. We believe that Nigerians cherish education because many people are deprived of it either directly or indirectly. But nowadays, the case has changed. Many pupils now prefer to sing, act, paint, drum or do other things apart from what they can learn inside the four walls of a classroom.
As a parent, if you find your child losing interest in school, the key is not to get drawn into a power struggle with your child over school, but to address the underlying problem. Your children will not learn the appropriate coping skills to change their behaviour if you keep engaging in this fight with them. Instead, it will only add to the negativity of the situation.
I’ve also met parents of defiant teens who respond to their child’s refusal to attend school by yelling, screaming, and taking everything away. These parents are trying to hold their kids accountable, but they’re setting up a dynamic of “I’ve got nothing to lose” in their child’s mind. Their teens actually become motivated to refuse school even more because it’s one of the few things he can control. Instead, these parents need to get to the root of the problem and coach their children out of it.
Other parents get worn down by their child and simply give up; they let their child become truant or drop out of school because they’ve had it.
Why Do Kids Refuse to Go to School?
From my experience, most kids who refuse to go to school fall into one or more of these four categories:
• Kids who are being bullied or those who are having trouble getting along with peers, either for the short term or the long term
• Kids who are struggling academically and for whom school has become a very negative experience
• Kids who have problems with authority and following the rules
• Kids who are experiencing some anxiety—separation anxiety, (usually in younger kids), or worry about tests, what’s happening at home, or whether or not they’ll be picked up that day, etc.
How to Turn Things Around.
1) Assess the problem from the root.
Sometimes it is actually a child’s lack of problem solving skills that are the root of the issue. For example, your child might be falling behind in class, but doesn’t know how to approach his/her teacher and ask for help. Spend some time talking with your child to really dig deep into the problem.
Ask open ended questions—these usually start with “what,” “when,” or “how.” You might ask, “When do you have the toughest time in school?” or “What goes on for you when the teacher assigns something that seems really difficult?” You might also get input from the teacher and support staff at your child’s school as well—they often see things you don’t see, and report things your child won’t report to you.
You can also consult a private home tutor who can help you to assess the child and give you a report of your child’s general academic performance. At times, you may need an independent report that is different from the school for a rational and unbiased assessment.
2) Think of finding solutions from home and school.
Think of the people who work at your child’s school as your team mates. While they often bring a different perspective to the table, I can tell you that most of them have the same goal—they care about your child and they want to help your child learn and grow, academically and personally.
It takes commitment from the staff as well as commitment from you in order to help your child through a challenging time—just because the problem is taking place at school does not mean that you get to sit back and let the teachers handle it.
When you are feeling lost about what to do, teachers often have great, effective ideas that you can try—don’t be afraid to ask for some guidance. Teachers might also refer you to the school counsellor for additional support and ideas.
3) Understand that it is a gradual process.
Change is not an overnight process. Your child will most likely not make a complete turnaround and start liking—or even tolerating school in a twinkle of an eye. Start where your child is right now and gradually increase your expectations over time until you’ve achieved your goal.
Be patient and check in with the school often. Talk with your child often as well to see if things are getting better, and come up with new ideas to try if needed. Continue to draw upon your support system for ideas and possible solutions.
Children with peer challenges might need some assertiveness training—a lot of kids don’t know how to speak up respectfully when another student offends them.
4) Encourage and motivate your child by using positive incentives.
Recognize your child’s progress, even “baby steps.” Let your child know you can see s/he is trying, or let her know you noticed that s/he cried a bit less (or fought a bit less!) this morning and she’s on the right track.
Frame your accountability system in a positive way: “For each day that you do this, you get an extra 15 minutes of computer time.” Or “Once you do that, you earn certain benefit for the day.” Notice I am not saying never to use consequences.
I suggest offering extra incentives first and if that doesn’t work, make a current privilege dependent upon your child going to school each day. Every time you offer an incentive there is a built-in consequence—they don’t earn the incentive.
No school today, no incentive tonight and they can try again tomorrow. If they don’t go to school at least 4 days out of 5, they don’t get to ‘here or there’ over the weekend.
So while it’s framed positively in the first two examples above, there is a consequence, and this can be used with ODD kids as well. Kids who are dealing with anxiety-based issues especially benefit from positive incentives such as earning something special on the weekend once they go to school each day.
5) Speak Up.
If you notice some seriously defiant behaviour and your child does not respond to these strategies after a week or two, then it’s definitely time to reach out for some support—locate a therapist or counsellor who can help you get your child’s defiance under control. You may also need to consider the option of sending your child to a boarding school.
I’ve worked with so many kids who struggled for the first few weeks of school and improved so much over the course of the year. Were there setbacks? Yes, of course! But kids are resilient and they can learn and adjust with some coaching and support from you.
Also, don’t forget about your school counsellor, social worker, or psychologist as they can be valuable supports for you along the way, and can provide information on helpful community resources, too. Speak up, reach out, and ask for help. It might be just what your child needs.
Written by Akinyele Kolade Abel, www.thinkfirsttutors.com
“There are no dull students anywhere…”